The Manitou Stone is known by many names: Manitou Asinîy (Creator’s Stone,) awâsis kôhtakocihk kîsikohk (the child who fell from the sky,) the Iron Stone, the Iron Creek Meteorite, and the Shining Rock are just a few.
Stones are sacred to many Indigenous Nations. Each stone has a purpose. A stone is a gift from Manitou (the Creator) and has powers given it by the Creator. Thus to many Indigenous peoples, Manitou Asinîy is more than a meteorite. He is a sacred living being. Some elders say that Manitou Asinîy was sent by the Creator as a reminder of the Creator’s existence.
History of Manitou Asinîy
Manitou Asinîy is a 145kg iron meteorite that fell from the sky on an unknown date many years ago. While the precise location is unknown, it is thought to have been near Hardisty, Alberta.
Manitou Asinîy is of great spiritual significance to many Indigenous Nations. A healing stone, it was credited with protecting the buffalo herds of the northern Plains. People visited Manitou Asinîy to pray, hold ceremonies, and leave offerings.
This all changed in 1866 when Manitou Asinîy was stolen from the land by Reverend George McDougall, the Methodist missionary at the nearby Victoria Mission, at Pakan. He had seen how significant Manitou Asinîy was to Indigenous peoples and thought that bringing it to the mission would draw people to Christianity. Alarmed at this act, Indigenous spiritual leaders prophesied that war, plague, and famine would soon devastate their people.
How did Manitou Asinîy come to be at the Royal Alberta Museum?
Years after it was removed from the land, the missionaries sent the Manitou Stone to Victoria Methodist College in Cobourg, Ontario, now part of the University of Toronto. The Manitou Stone was displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum for many years.
At the request of the Alberta Government, Victoria University College placed the Manitou Stone on long-term loan with the Royal Alberta Museum (then called the Provincial Museum of Alberta) in 1972.
Unable to conduct extensive consultations with Alberta and Saskatchewan First Nations itself, Victoria University transferred the title of the Manitou Stone to RAM in December of 2001, with the understanding that museum staff would consult with Indigenous nations who have a connection with Manitou Asinîy.
Between 2002 and 2004, the Royal Alberta Museum held consultations with 33 Alberta and Saskatchewan First Nations and seven Indigenous organizations to ask what would be the most appropriate location for Manitou Asinîy. The majority believed that, if possible, Manitou Asinîy should be returned to its original location in a secure facility; however until recently, there was no consensus on who should build and operate the facility and the consensus was that the stone will remain at RAM in the interim, as it is both a secure space and accessible to Indigenous peoples.
Manitou Asinîy to be returned to the Indigenous people
In recent years, a not-for-profit organization called Manitou Asinîy-Iniskim-Tsa Xani Center began consultations with Indigenous communities, Elders, and knowledge holders to build consensus about the future location of Manitou Asinîy.
This organization approached the Government of Alberta with their proposal to return Manitou Asinîy near its original location, to a purpose-built interpretative and healing center that will be suitable for ceremonies, and will provide communities with greater access to the Stone.
The Government of Alberta is committed to returning sacred ceremonial objects held in provincial collections to Indigenous communities, which includes open and transparent dialogue about the future of Manitou Asinîy.
On September 30, 2022, the Government of Alberta and the Manitou Asinîy-Iniskim-Tsa Xani Center signed a co-stewardship agreement with the Centre, committing to repatriating Manitou Asiniy to its historic location and to the care of Indigenous people.
Manitou Asiniy will remain at the Royal Alberta Museum where it can continue to be cared for and accessible to Indigenous Peoples until the Manitou Asinîy-Iniskim-Tsa Xani Center is constructed.
When will Manitou Asinîy be returned to the Indigenous people?
We are at the very beginning of this momentous project, so an exact timeline for the physical return of Manitou Asinîy is difficult to determine. The Manitou Asinîy-Iniskim-Tsa Xani Center is committed to fundraising for the construction of the building, and the Government of Alberta will support these efforts by ensuring the Center has access to grant funding.
RAM takes its duty of care for Manitou Asinîy very seriously, and we are eager to continue discussions with Indigenous communities to ensure the Manitou Stone continues to be cared for appropriately while still housed at the museum.
Our stewardship of Manitou Asinîy is guided by a commitment to ensure that the cultures and traditions of Indigenous Peoples are respected and that Manitou Asinîy continues to be protected and accessible.
The Manitou Asinîy Gallery
The Manitou Asinîy Gallery at RAM was designed in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous knowledge holders to ensure cultural considerations are reflected in the space surrounding the stone.
Manitou Asinîy is located in an area that is pre-admission so he is accessible to anyone who wants to visit with him. The circular gallery faces westward towards a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, which fill the space with natural sunlight and allow Manitou Asinîy a view of the sky. Manitou Asinîy rests on soil from the relative site at which he fell. A delegation of knowledge holders and pipe carriers, along with Royal Alberta Museum staff, conducted a ceremony for the removal of soil from the site in 2017.
Through our consultations and active engagement with many knowledge holders throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan we were gifted with knowledge and oral narratives concerning Manitou Asinîy, and these are reflected in the panoramic image and the text panels.
The gallery includes a panoramic image of the prairie landscape similar to where it is believed the stone originally landed. The panorama reflects the seasons and depicts winter, the season in which Indigenous oral narratives and stories are told. The gallery also features a soundtrack of ambient prairie sounds that give visitors the feeling of being out on the landscape. The gallery design creates an ambiance of reflection and prayer as we remember that Manitou Stone is an important reflection of many Indigenous Nations’ ontology, philosophy, and spirituality, as well as the resilience and continuity of these Nations after its removal.
On the advice of Elders, a small group of RAM staff gather twice a week to smudge Manitou Asinîy. These staff have been taught by Elders so that they understand the proper ways to care for Manitou Asinîy while he is in our care.
Indigenous visitors are welcome to leave offerings with Manitou Asinîy, and many people touch and pray with Manitou Asinîy when they visit. The space is also designed so that ceremonies can be held in the space, and staff are available to help facilitate privacy for those groups.
On the advice received by Elders, photography and videography of the stone are not permitted.
For inquiries, please contact Meaghan Patterson.